DENVER – A new round of fighting over gun rights may be on the horizon.
East Coast money is back in the hands of Colorado lobbyists working against at least one gun-related law currently making its way through the State Senate.
From August through December, the Everytown for Gun Safety Action Fund — former New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg’s organization — has paid the Denver-based lobbying firm of Headwaters Strategies $37,500 to oppose at least one bill that has already cleared the State Veterans and Military Affairs Committee.
SB17-005 would allow Colorado sheriffs to provide a handgun safety training course to employees of any Colorado public school who already hold a concealed carry permit. Second reading on that bill is scheduled for Friday.
Prime sponsor Sen. Chris Holbert (R-Douglas County) has said the bill is simply about giving the training to those who know it best.
“I think the 64 people who are probably best qualified to answer what training should be required and be accountable when terrible things happen are our county sheriffs,” Holbert said. “For a sheriff to say that he or she believes whatever that standard is this is the standard they believe is best, that adds tremendous credibility.”
Others worry the bill would decrease the amount of training school employees would need.
“This could create a situation where a local sheriff and a school board could say, ‘we actually don’t want to do any training, or our training is fill out a form and sign your name,’ said Sen. Stephen Fenberg (D-Boulder) during a hearing on the bill. “That could result in pretty much zero training for someone to carry a gun in a school. The power it gives at the local level could create situations where there is virtually no training.”
The requirements for a school district to get liability insurance in Colorado contradict Fenberg’s assessment.
According to Keith Yaich, armed staff coordinator for Bennett School District 29J, Colorado School District’s Self Insurance Pool requires that any staff member who carries a weapon on school grounds has to pass a 25-round shooting certification annually with a 100 percent score.
Bennett is in its second year of allowing staff members to carry concealed weapons. It is one of a handful of districts statewide that contract with employees to carry concealed weapons. Yaich said it has worked well and has been well received by both the community and the staff.
“Most have embraced it,” he said of the parents. “Of course there are some who don’t agree, but overall, it’s been overwhelming support. The staff has been supportive as well compared to other districts. Our neighboring districts were not nearly as receptive as we have been.”
Laura Carno from Coloradans for Civil Liberties (CCL) said she doesn’t understand why anyone from New York cares about what happens in Colorado. She questions the pushback against a bill that only aims to provide more training options from those most qualified to do the training, she said.
Carno, who testified on the bill, is working to bring the Faculty/Administrator Safety Training and Emergency Response (FASTER) program to Colroado. A program that is already operational in Ohio training school employees to a level above the police in medical and firearms training.
“They are actually as well, if not better, trained in those two areas,” Carno said. “You don’t need to train them in arresting people, you don’t need them to understand all the different laws. This is about stopping a threat and stopping the bleeding.”
It won’t be Carno’s first battle with Bloomberg. In 2013, his organizations donated $350,000 to two southern Colorado senators who were eventually recalled in an effort led in part by Carno.
The recall of then-Senate President John Morse and Sen. Angela Giron, both Democrats, made national headlines. The two were recalled after they voted to pass several gun control bills. It was the first time in Colorado history that a state legislator was recalled.
In addition to Senate Bill 5, there’s likely to be another bill that shows up on Bloomberg’s radar. Senate Bill 6, known as “Lizzie’s Law,” would allow military personnel under 21 to apply for a concealed carry permit.
Mom’s Demand Action for Gun Sense in America, a subset of Everytown, testified against “Lizzie’s Law” last year.
“These are commonsense laws,” Carno said. “Both of these have that feel of forcing some training, forcing some certification.”
Yaich said the decision in Bennett wasn’t made overnight, but being a smaller, rural district with fewer resources for student resource officers played heavily in the decision.
“With all the school shootings, nationally and here in Colorado, our local board of education came up with the solution that was best for us,” Yaich said. “I’m pleased we haven’t had to test anything.”
Yaich said there is a series of steps a staff member has to pass before being allowed to carry.
First, the employee must pass the same psychological assessment most police officers do. After that, there is a list of requirements:
- They have to have or obtain a concealed-carry permit from the local sheriff, which comes with its own set of requirements.
- They have to go through a minimum of 40 hours of annual training, the same type police officers take.
- They must go through combat, first aid, and medical triage training.
- They undergo scenario training two to three times a year.
- They must have a minimum of 50 hours a year of range shooting.
- Finally, they have to pass the 25-round certification test for insurance.
Staff members who meet all the requirements then contract with the district for $1 per year.
Yaich said the district takes its decision seriously. It has warning signs on entrances to all buildings that employees may be armed, and it is getting ready to start training with the Adams-Arapahoe Sheriff’s Office.
“I’m pleased in the amount of time and effort these people put in. They are very, very committed to their training,” Yaich said.
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